Integrated digital monitoring and management of air pollution in African cities

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: School of Public Health

Abstract

The number of people living in cities in Africa is growing faster than in any other part of the world. Poverty, lack of alternatives and limited regulations have also increased the use of polluting cars and fuels by families and small industries. This has resulted in high levels of air pollution which puts the residents at risk of different diseases. However, the governments do not have complete information on where in cities air pollution is high; nor do they know how different sources are distributed around the city. The equipment used for measuring air pollution in wealthy countries is too large and expensive to be used in African cities. Our network of African and UK universities, together with partners in government, community and industry, plans to fully map what information is needed to help control air pollution and use new forms of technologies, like data from satellites and artificial intelligence, to create new ways of measuring and monitoring air pollution in African cities.

Planned Impact

Our network's work will lead to leveraging advances in digital technologies to obtain essential information on the levels, variations and sources of air pollution in cities in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and enable evidence-based policies to reduce air pollution. This will in turn contribute to reducing the burden of ill health associated with air pollution in the region.

Cities in SSA are growing faster than in other region and air pollution is a major hazard to human health and wellbeing. There is now local, national and international realisation that air pollution is a barrier to achieving many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals but there is a lack of evidence on what policies can be effective, because air pollution sources are different from high-income nations, and because we do not have data to measure the impacts of policies. Traditional monitoring technologies used in high-income settings are not suitable for cities in SSA due to cost, engineering (e.g., unreliable/intermittent electricity supply) and social (e.g., inability to deploy monitors in densely populated areas) reasons. Our network's aim is to overcome this major obstacle by leveraging advances in sensor and satellite technology, data analytics and AI to provide reliable timely information on air pollution in SSA cities. Beyond air pollution, our work will become a major advance towards a cost-effective integrated digital urban environmental health surveillance system, adapted to local infrastructure and social context

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description This award covers the first phase of work to develop an integrated digital urban air pollution monitoring system in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). The award has now ended. The network was successful in achieving the original objectives, with the most significant achievements being:
- the development of an enhanced partnership of researchers and policy makers working on digital air pollution monitoring in SSA;
- the co-development and co-design of a digital air pollution monitoring system integrating ground level and satellite sensing technologies to provide evidence for policies on air pollution;
- the identification of key policy opportunities and options on air pollution management;
- the identification of training and capacity strengthening needs in data analytics and modelling skills within our network and beyond.
Our research matches with the UK's Official Development Assistant aims to promote welfare in developing countries, in particular in relation to UK Aid Strategy stated goal of tackling extreme poverty and helping the world's most vulnerable, and to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing).
Exploitation Route The main outcome of this award was the development of an integrated digital urban air pollution monitoring system in SSA. If further funding becomes available, the implementation of this system will ultimately improve population health and wellbeing in SSA's cities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment

 
Description Our network's aim was to leverage advances in digital technologies to obtain essential information on the levels, variations and sources of air pollution in cities in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), and enable evidence-based policies to reduce air pollution. The network's main impact has been an increased research and innovation capacity on air pollution monitoring systems across Tanzania, Ghana, Rwanda and the UK. We brought together technical/scientific, policy, civil society and industry perspectives to collectively identify key policy opportunities and options for management of air pollution in SSA cities, as well as to co-develop an integrated digital urban air pollution monitoring system, co-design a prototype measurement campaign and implement a pilot monitoring study in Accra. We ensured that both genders were involved and equally represented in our work, and that the outputs addressed the different needs that arise because of diversity in the population affected the most by air pollution e.g. drivers (mainly male) and street food vendors (mainly female). The long-term impacts on population health and wellbeing were impacted by the cancellation of the stage 2 RFA by UKRI. However, if funds become available in the future, our work can contribute to reducing the burden of ill health associated with air pollution in the region, with people living and working in cities in SSA and the region's health system and economy as the ultimate beneficiaries. As such, our network will have both policy and social impact as well as impact on environmental sustainability, in line with Sustainable Development Goals 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing).
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Series of meetings on data analytics and AI methods for satellite imagery aimed at postgraduates and research users across Imperial College (UK) and AIMS (Rwanda).
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Research partnership with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) 
Organisation African Institute for Mathematical Sciences
Country South Africa 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We bring expertise in data analytics, air pollution science and geospatial analysis of environmental data to this collaboration, as well as a track record of air pollution measurement studies in Sub Saharan Africa.
Collaborator Contribution AIMS brings substantial expertise and experience in research and training in data analytics and modelling, in addition to post-graduate training, research and public engagement in mathematical sciences, working closely with Africa's emerging AI industry.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary across environmental science and data analytics, with the aim to build equity into the research partnership across the institutions involved. It has so far produced the following outputs: 1) Engagement with policy makers on key policy opportunities and options for management of air pollution in SSA cities. 2) Co-design of a prototype measurement campaign. 3) Development of novel analytical methods to integrate ground level and satellite sensing technologies with data analytics and AI methods. 4) Training and capacity strengthening
Start Year 2020
 
Description Research partnership with the Ifakara Health Institute in Dar es Salaam 
Organisation Ifakara Health Institute
Country Tanzania, United Republic of 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We bring expertise in data analytics, air pollution science and geospatial analysis of environmental data to this collaboration, as well as a track record of air pollution measurement studies in Sub Saharan Africa.
Collaborator Contribution The Ifakara Health Institute brings expertise on environmental health and health outcomes in Dar es Salaam, which is one of our target cities for the Stage 2 proposal.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary across environmental science and policy, with the aim to build equity into the research partnership across the institutions involved. It has so far produced the following outputs: 1) Engagement with policy makers on key policy opportunities and options for management of air pollution in SSA cities.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Research partnership with the University of Dar es Salaam 
Organisation University of Dar es Salaam
Country Tanzania, United Republic of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We bring expertise in data analytics, air pollution science and geospatial analysis of environmental data to this collaboration, as well as a track record of air pollution measurement studies in Sub Saharan Africa.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Dar es Salaam brings expertise on air pollution monitoring and environmental science in Dar es Salaam, which is one of our target cities for the Stage 2 proposal.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary across environmental science and policy, with the aim to build equity into the research partnership across the institutions involved. It has so far produced the following outputs: 1) Engagement with policy makers on key policy opportunities and options for management of air pollution in SSA cities.
Start Year 2021
 
Description Research partnership with the University of Ghana 
Organisation University of Ghana
Country Ghana 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We bring expertise in data analytics, air pollution science and geospatial analysis of environmental data to this collaboration, as well as a track record of air pollution measurement studies in Sub Saharan Africa.
Collaborator Contribution The University of Ghana have substantial expertise in atmospheric science, air pollution surveillance and policy. UG co-investigators provide leadership in air pollution science, measurement and policy for the network.
Impact The University of Ghana is a long-term collaborator on studies to measure air pollution in Ghana and on developing evidence-based policy to reduce air pollution. This collaboration is multi-disciplinary across environmental science and policy, with the aim to build equity into the research partnership across the institutions involved. It has so far produced the following outputs: 1) Engagement with policy makers on key policy opportunities and options for management of air pollution in SSA cities. 2) Co-design of a prototype measurement campaign. 3) Co-development of features of an integrated digital urban air pollution monitoring system. 4) Training and capacity strengthening
 
Description Presentation by Prof. Samuel Agyei-Mensah (University of Ghana) at the Urban Health Initiative (UHI) Science Policy Dialogue Series organised by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the World Health Organisation, Ghana. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Prof. Agyei-Mensah presented on air pollution monitoring and health outcomes to an audience of policymakers in Ghana during the virtual Urban Health Initiative (UHI) Science Policy Dialogue Series. The audience included the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, the World Health Organization, the World Health Organization Regional Office, the Ghana Environmental Protection Agency, the Mayor of Accra, the Ministry of Transport, Ghana Education Service, and the Ghana Health Service. His presentation sparked a series of dialogues with policymakers regarding air pollution and health outcomes in Accra, which will contribute to our future policy engagement activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description WHO Urban Health Initiative workshops in June and October 2021, organised by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly and the World Health Organisation, Ghana. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Colleagues at the University of Ghana, AIMS, Rwanda Environmental Management Authority and the University of Dar es Salaam participated in and presented at two workshops organized as part of the Urban Health Initiative (UHI). The audience included the World Health Organization Head Office, the World Health Organization Country Office in Ghana, international and local researchers, local media, local stakeholders (Mayor of Accra; Accra Metropolitan Assembly; Ghana Meteorological Agency; Ghana Health Service). These workshops were successful in strengthening existing relationships with policymakers. The researchers are assisting WHO in developing a report on Conceptual framework for tracking policies/strategies and health in human settlements with special focus on African cities and air pollution, and will participate in the UHI phase II aimed at creating new climate policies in SSA.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Workshop on Data needs for better policies on air pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The University of Ghana, AIMS - Rwanda, the University of Dar es Salaam, and Imperial College London hosted a workshop to bring together stakeholders from academia, government, environmental regulatory institutions, local government authorities, research bodies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) from Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda to deliberate and share knowledge on specific data needs and opportunities for improving air quality in SSA cities. The workshop included presentations by the environmental regulatory agencies from the three participating countries and sparked a conversation on how academic data can enhance policy design and what the barriers are to implement new policies in air pollution management. This activity resulted in a continuous series of dialogues, in particular with the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority, with the aim to develop a joint proposal for a city monitoring campaign for air and noise pollution in Kigali using low-cost sensors in combination with advanced forecasting models.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021